Friday, November 2, 2012

Chapter 6 -- The Flying Lightning Shows

Chapter 6
The Flying Lightning Shows

Raul was excited about his concert, and kept returning the conversation to that.  I was most interested.  “We’ve rented a fairground for a three day weekend.  I’ve organized for several bands to perform, but you’ve got to hear this one chick in particular.  You’ve never heard anyone have their way with a guitar like this woman.  She simply shreds it, and she’s dish for the eyes.  Her name is Orient Hall.  Mark my words, you’ll be hearing that name for years to come.  She’s going to be a superstar.”
“My curiosity is aroused,” I replied, “and then some.  Now I can’t wait.”
We drove through the night, and talked at great length.  Raul expressed in great depth his ultimate dream of co-promoting concerts with one of the more prominent American impresarios.  So while inventing the past history for Gitch that his questions deemed necessary, I made a point of saying I had a cousin who was an aspiring concert promoter in the San Francisco Bay area who was just starting out with smaller shows, but had great ambition, and already many connections.  As I had hoped, that bit of fiction endeared me more to him.
He told me a bit about his life: his mother was from Illinois and his father a native of Mexico, which was where they raised him, and which explained his perfect English.  He loved music, but couldn’t play a lick, and so had to settle for enjoying the inside of that world on the business side.  Because it seemed like it would intrigue him rather turn him away, I was emboldened by the success of my first lie, and boldly contrived whoppers about the life of Gitch.  I told him I had a twin brother who was a very bad man; he was a criminal, a bank robber, and was wanted for bank robbery in several states.  Posters bearing his likeness, identical to mine, were plastered in post offices across several hundred miles.  So rather than stay at home and be forced to continually vindicate myself, I chose rather instead to come to Central America and enjoy a long holiday while laying low till my brother was captured.
Early the following morning, about twenty miles from the intersection where Raul would turn west toward Guadalajara, he started running down my options.  I would either have to hitchhike or walk about fifteen miles to the nearest bus station.  He could leave me at a small store/restaurant with a gas pump to wait in comfort, or drop me at the crossing, which was remote, but enhanced my possibility of catching a ride by adding any potential east west traffic.  I had plenty of water, and so decided on the latter option.
We reached the crossing, and it was downright desolate.  There was very little grass poking up through the four endless fields of dust.  “Now don’t forget,” he said, as we parted; “When you get in to Relampogo Volando, get up near the stage and ask the hands and roadies for me; I’ll make sure they’re looking out for you.  Good luck hoisting that thumb, and I’ll see you this weekend.”  He shook my hand like he’d made a vow, and his look into my eyes made me know that it was true.
I stood on the corner leading south toward Mexico City, and for several hours saw little more than the sun climb higher and hotter in the sky.  Precisely three cars went by, none even seeming to give me the slightest notice.  Then a car driving west gave me momentary hope when it pulled over near me, albeit still facing west.  A tall, lanky guy with long wavy blonde hair got out, said thanks to the driver, then came over to introduce himself to me while the car sped away.
He extended his hand and told me his name: “Adelbert, but everyone just calls me Bert.”
I shook his hand and told him mine: “Gitch.”  He spoke with a European accent I could not identify, so I asked him where he was from.
“Holland,” he answered. 
It turned out he was also riding his thumb to Mexico City, so we got to chatting, and mutually hoped that the first car to stop would be willing to take the both of us.  While we waited he told me he was on holiday in Mexico for several months, and casually making his way around the country.  I told him that I too was on an extended holiday in Mexico, and repeated the lie that I was sort of on the lam because of my twin brother’s sins.
In four hours three cars drove by heading south, and none pulled over.  It was late in the afternoon, and we were preparing to start trekking south when a beat up old jalopy pulled over ahead of us.  We hurried to look in, and saw a clearly drunken man, with a beer in his crotch, motioning for us both to get in the car.  The back seat was cluttered with trash, and a couple of beat up briefcases, and the foot space of the front seat was stuffed with old clothing and other mysterious garbage.  Bert and I looked at each other.  “We’ve waited all day, we can always get out,” he said suggestively.
“Okay, let’s see how it goes,” I answered.
“How’s your Spanish?” Bert asked me.
“Decent, why?” I replied.
“You’re riding up front, I speak very little.”  With great agility he slipped into the back seat and pulled both our packs in with him.  My entrance was a little more reticent, but ere long we were off.  The man talked about himself, but between his inebriation and his accent I could only gather that he sold the jewelry that was in the briefcases in the back.   With my limited Spanish, and his drunken butchery of it, I understood very little of his babble, and so just smiled a lot and agreed with everything he said.
As he told me something about his wife and children three hundred kilometers away, the car began to drift according to his distraction; Bert shot his arm from the back seat, grabbed the steering wheel and corrected the car’s direction.  A cerveceria appeared on the horizon.  The driver stopped and bought two six packs of Corona.  Then he went into the trinket shop next door and we could see him through the window jawing with two women, who were giving him every mouthful back.  While he was thus engaged, Bert and I discussed it, and decided to keep riding, but with both us constantly watching the road.  The man returned and offered us a beer, which we each took, as much to reduce what he had access to as to quench our own thirst.  He lit a cigarette with a match, swigged his beer, and pulled the car back onto the highway.
A couple minutes later I smelled smoke, which was filling the car from the backseat.  He had tossed the matchstick onto some paper on the floor, and I turned to see Bert in the process of stamping out the smoldering flames at his feet.  When he had extinguished it, the car swerved again.  Bert ordered me:  “Put the shift into neutral.” 
He reached from the backseat and seized control of the steering wheel again.  I had done as he demanded, and Bert guided the car safely off the highway.  “Do what you want, but I’m getting out of here,” he said.
I had to exit the car before he could, and said:   “I’m not getting back in.”
We waved to the driver and thanked him for the ride; he was angry, and muttered Spanish curses while screeching away in the car.  We strapped on our packs and started walking toward the city, but had only gone a short way when a cab pulled over.  We got in and hired him to take us to an area where there were hotels, so we could rent a room.  We let out adjacent rooms at the same hotel, had dinner together then went to straight to bed.
 The next day I had supposed I would roam the city with Bert, but when we met for coffee in the hotel restaurant, he made clear from the outset that he had his own agenda, and was more interested in exploring alone the darker and seedier parts of the city.  I was a day early for Relampogo Volando, and had invited Bert to attend, but his response that he’d think about it was a polite ‘nay,’ and from there we kept to our separate ways.
So I spent the day wandering the city alone, and contemplating my life.  I wanted to continue going about incognito. My hair was already long, and my beard growing.  I also picked up a couple pairs of eyeglass frames at el Mercado, to modify my appearance in such a way should I so desire.  I yearned to have a guitar, but still wasn’t ready to return to the public eye, and so resigned myself for the time being to satisfy the urge to play whenever an opportunity presented itself. Otherwise I was simply the free spirit Gitch, cast like a leaf into the wind, to blow me wherever it might.  That was my plan, as firmly as written in stone--until I first set eyes on Orient Hall.
I didn’t see Bert the rest of that day nor the following, and set out early for Relampogo Volando, to be there right when the gate opened, at two o’clock.  I was one of the first ones in, and went straightway to the stage and watched the roadies setting up while admiring all the equipment I loved and longed for.  I became so engrossed that I drifted into a reverie of memories of rocking the stage….
When the real world returned around me, I thought to start asking some of the stagehands if Raul was around.  Just a few minutes later one said that Raul had been expecting me, and led me backstage to where he was directing various people in every which way.  He greeted me warmly, and said that he was greatly pleased to see me again.  I described the adventure that had befallen me after he dropped me on the road, then I inquired as to his trip to Guadalajara.  He was vague and brief; he said it went fine, and that was all.
I was so relaxed to be back in so comfortable an environment, that I suddenly blurted to Raul:  “You wouldn’t be hiring any roadies now, would you?”
“Well, you know how that is,” he answered.  “Some of them use the tours as a way of getting around themselves, and come and go.  You want to lug equipment all day?”
“I grew up around it,” I answered.  “I can install a PA and I can take apart a stack of Marshalls.  Maybe I can tag along on the tour for a while, and see where it takes me.”
Raul didn’t hesitate.  He smiled and stuck out his hand.  “We’ve always got room for a good roadie.  Welcome aboard.  First, give me your tickets, I’ll get you a refund on that.  Then go introduce yourself to that guy there,” he said, pointing out a burly, darkly bearded man.  “That’s Roberto, the crew chief.  He’ll put you where he needs you.  Oh, and when you see the most striking, most stunning, most stupendously gorgeous blonde walking the face of the earth, just remember this….” he said, trailing off.
“What’s that?” I implored.
“She plays guitar even better than she looks.”
On those words he left me.  Now I had to see this Orient Hall, both in person, and with a guitar in her hands.  I started asking my new coworkers and learned that she was aloof, wild and untamable.  It was said of her that there was no stage large enough to contain her presence.  As I moved equipment and laid wiring I kept my eyes open for her.  
There were several girls hanging around backstage, but none that struck me as whom Raul had described.  The first bands played their sets, and the crowd swelled to thousands, and there were more men and women everywhere, but still I had not seen her.  The name of her band was the eponymous Orient Hall, and they were one of the headline acts.  They went on around ten.  The house lights went down, her band started riffing on a progression, that crescendoed and exploded when the massive purple and yellow spotlight shone down upon her from above.  Someone flung her guitar high into the air from the side stage, she caught it deftly, the strap landing like a lasso over her shoulder, and broke straight into a blistering solo in perfect time with her band.  She was wearing a sequined body suit that dazzled with her every movement, and she wore rings set with tiny diamonds on every finger that flashed like little stars as she blazed up and down the neck of her guitar.  She was a dynamo of energy, and stomped around the stage and delicately pounded her axe for more than three hours relentlessly.  She was nothing short of incredible, virtuosic, and concluded the show with a nine minute version of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile that, with the eyes closed, almost sounded as though being performed by the late great master himself. 
After the show, as we were striking the stage for the night, I caught a glimpse of her out of her costume.  She was on her way into the backstage party.  She was even more gorgeous without the makeup, jewels and lights.  At that moment a fire lit up in my loins that only she could quell.  I was enamored.
I determined to win her without revealing my true identity—for if she were to know that I was the Deak beforehand, how could I ever trust that she truly loved me?  But what chance did a roadie have with the star of the show, who had her pick of all the world?  How could a roadie even hope to get her attention?  I started pondering all these things and more, and became ever watchful for any unexpected moment that might present opportunity.
We finished the three day Mexico City festival, at the conclusion of which Raul appointed me head roadie. I was very knowledgeable of the musical equipment for obvious reasons, and worked my tail off all weekend, and so we packed up the bus and the equipment truck and headed to our next destination: Acapulco.  At the Acapulco show a little incident occurred that finally made Orient notice me.  She was in the middle of a show, and in the middle of the solo to her hit, Burning Stars, when I noticed that her guitar’s patch cord had become disconnected from her foot pedal about three seconds before she was going to need it for the solo that was the vital heart of the song.  I leaped onto the stage and plugged it back in just in time to pull my fingers from beneath her foot.  She smiled at me then ripped flawlessly into the strings. 
The next afternoon I happened to see her as we were working on the stage.  She said:  “Thanks for noticing that cord and fixing it; that was good looking out.”  Then she was gone before I could even think two words to start a conversation.  I saw her again the following afternoon and she didn’t even acknowledge me, although I don’t think she was rude, just sincerely adrift in her own universe.  Nonetheless I was no less disappointed that I hadn’t caught her eye.
Orient was on fire for all three Acapulco shows, and the crowds grew considerably larger each night.  At the end of the final night, when the stage was struck and the last few things were being loaded into the storage truck, Raul tossed me the keys and asked me to lock up the truck.  They were all comfortably tucked onto the tour bus, and as I was maneuvering the last speaker onto the truck I noticed Orient’s guitar case where it was mounted to the wall.  After staring at it I very carefully took it down, looked around even though I knew I was alone, then carefully opened the top and delicately withdrew the guitar.  I could feel that it was powerfully charged with musical magic.  I lightly laid my fingers on the fret board, and the guitar itself seized and guided my hands.  It was as well as I have ever played.
I picked it for a few minutes then put it away for fear of being discovered, and locked the trailer and went to my bed, where I lay in the dark.  I could feel myself burning in her embrace, and yearned to burn inside of her….  She had come through the guitar into my fingers and I was tingling and lost in thoughts of love.
The tour went from Acapulco to El Paso, across the southwest and into California.  She finally came to recognize me as Gitch, the head roadie, and discussed matters of the stage and the sound system with me, but nothing more to give me an inkling of hope that she had the least interest in me.  Meanwhile I was madly in love, and while still determined to win her on my own terms, and with my secret identity, I did start to consider relenting on my vow not to use my guitar to win her either.  I didn’t want to come at her with my axe ablaze, so I took a different tack.  When the guitar tech was around I picked up one and tuned it more perfectly than the electronic guitar tuner. 
He was shocked and amazed, and scrambled the tuning nuts and asked me to do it again.  I did so in a few moments, and the next day he had me give a demonstration to Orient herself.  She was greatly impressed, and on the spot assigned me the position of her personal guitar tuner.  Their next and obvious question was could I play.  I strummed a few simple rhythms, intentionally keeping my real ability low key.  Orient seemed pleased with the development as she strode away; my heart was palpitating.
Not a week a later, an hour before a show at San Diego, her guitarist was afflicted by emergency appendicitis, and had to be rushed to the hospital.  Remembering my perfect pitch, and the bit of strumming I’d done for her, Orient approached me and asked if I could bail her out of her pinch and fill in on rhythm guitar.  If I agreed I would reveal that I could play guitar, and once on stage there was no telling how well I’d be able to control myself; but if I told her no, then I would likely lose her forever, so I decided to play guitar for her.  I knew all her music from having heard it almost every night for weeks, but I feigned a lesser degree of musicianship, and asked that some pages with chord progressions for some songs be taped to the floor of the stage to guide me through the performance.  I also requested that I be able to paint my face.  While my true intent was to disguise my identity, I explained to her that it had always been a fantasy of mine to play on stage wearing face paint.  She gave me a quizzical look, but ultimately acquiesced, and a few minutes later I was rehearsing with the band.
We performed that night in Los Angeles, and I played with such focus and concentration that my contribution was flawless.  Orient and the rest of the band were tight, and we sounded fantastic.  In the middle of the first encore, while Orient was ripping off a solo, she also danced in my direction and laid a kiss on my left cheek.  The touch of her lips stirred the fire within, so that the very tips of my fingers and toes burned with passion.  I lost complete control of my senses, and unleashed an impromptu and monumental guitar solo that provided perfect counterpoint to hers.  She backed off and played rhythm while watching me with wide eyed amazement.  She had put me so far out of my senses that I let the guitar roar for a full minute before I realized that I had strayed far from the character that I wanted to portray.  I eased back into the rhythm and let Orient take back the spotlight and finish the show.
The crowd roared with cheers and applause.  We lined up along the front of the stage arm in arm—with Orient on my immediate right—took a long bow then filed backstage.  There in the shadows Orient took me aside for a moment, and said:  “You never told me you could play like that.”
“I normally don’t, and can’t explain it,” I feigned.  “Something came over me….”  I looked into her eyes.  “I was inspired.”
She smiled and replied:  “Well keep it up and we’ll keep you in the band for a while.”
She disappeared to her dressing room and I went and smeared myself in cold cream and wiped off the face paint.  I was overcome with desire.  My every thought was of her beauty, which served only to further arouse me.  My body could not contain the passion, and irrational thoughts swirled wildly in my mind, concluding solely with my finding my way into her arms. 
It was in such a state that I walked to the hotel, where the post gig party was in full swing.  Orient had rented the entire third floor for the band and crew, and when I arrived the party was already full blown.  There were at least a hundred people moving from room to room, drinking and dancing and whooping it up.  I was on such a natural high—both from playing guitar on stage for the first time in ages, and from being enamored of the sublimely gorgeous Orient. 
She was holding court with a crowd of men, many of whom I imagined were admirers like myself; and it was so thick there was no forcing my way through.  So I reluctantly decided to bide my time, hoping an opportunity to get near her would present itself later.  Instead I wandered into one of the other rooms.  Everyone was in high spirits and having fun, and I felt like somewhat of an outsider.  They were all buzzed and relaxed and enjoying themselves, while I was bound up in a dither of yearning for Orient.  There was a bar in the room I had entered.  The liquor bottles caught my eye, glistening in the light as they were.  I hadn’t touched a drop in well over a year, since the night I broke Bootleg’s prosthetic before he broke my face.  I was thirsty, and confident that I could limit myself to a couple of beers, just enough to elevate myself into the mood that was all around me, and so I cracked open a bottle of ale and took a sip.  It was refreshing and delicious.
 I chatted with a couple of fellow roadies, and introduced myself to a few strangers, but I was all the while distracted by my thoughts involuntarily returning to Orient, and I could not hold a conversation for longer than two minutes.  Eventually I wandered off alone.  I’d had three beers and stopped, but having gone so long without drinking, it was enough to get me mildly intoxicated.  I roamed the halls at random until I came out to the swimming pool.  A stunning full moon was beaming down from a midnight blue sky.  I stared up at it for a few moments, then my eyes were drawn to the silhouette of a woman leaning against the fence surrounding the pool.  It was Orient—there was no doubt.  I recognized her tall and slender figure, and her wild, long hair.  I was greatly surprised to find her alone.  I was going to approach her, then paused to ponder the how.  The kiss she had left on my cheek came alive again, and drawing courage from the fire within (and the beer) I went and gently placed my hands on her waist and kissed her on the neck.
She snapped back, turned around and smacked my face.  I was shocked and stung.  “Just what do you think you’re doing?” she yelled.
All my burning passions instantly transformed into the crestfallen blush of embarrassment.  “I—I thought you were sending me signals,” I explained.  “And you kissed me onstage tonight.” 
“That’s called showmanship, you imbecile!” she replied.  “I was playing to the crowd.”  She had an extraordinarily powerful voice, and cried:  “Raul!  Raul!  Come at once!”
He could have heard her from a block away, and in just a few moments hurried out from the hotel.  “What is it?” he panted.  “What’s the matter?”
“Give this jackass five hundred dollars, make him sign a release then fire him!” she ordered.  She ground her heel into two of my toes then stomped back into the party.
“Raul,” I said.  “Let me explain.”
But he looked like a different man, very cold and stern.  Without a word he motioned me into the lobby, where he finally spoke.  “Sit here a minute, I’ll be right back.”  I was reeling from the turn of events, and my mind raced while my heart groaned.  Raul returned in great haste.  He very formally presented me the release to sign, which I did, and handed me five hundred dollars, which I took.  A few minutes later I was wandering the streets of Los Angeles alone at two AM.

Chapter 1 -- Bootleg
Chapter 2 -- Bootcamp
Chapter 3 -- Sands
Chapter 4 -- Forgiven Not Forgotten
Chapter 5 -- Revenge
Chapter 6 -- The Flying Lightning Shows

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